Archive for October, 2012

Originally posted at The Sports Fan Journal, October 23

 

This is The Sports Fan Journal, and at the heart of it all, that is exactly what we all are. So for a moment here, I’m going to step aside from analysis and presenting things as they are and be just that, a sports fan. I’m going to be a sports fan that’s in the grip of the absolute most crippling part of fanhood: the devastating loss. But not just so much for the gist of losing a season, but for everything that sports truly is for some of us. The all-encompassing, reality-gripping, life-is-on-the-line event that it can play out to be. Because really, it is never is just a game, especially if you’re not playing it.

Let me back up a step here and speak to the obvious first. I’m bit of a baseball lifer and from St. Louis, Missouri, so the obvious is what it is. The St. Louis Cardinals lost the National League Championship Series last night and simultaneously lost their grip on their title as World Champions as well. In some cases, that’s all it is: good game, they fought hard and things look good for next year. But it’s never just really that for me, because I was raised with the franchise being always there. As long back as I can remember, I had two things tacked on my wall: pennants from the 1985 and 1987 World Series, featuring the St. Louis Cardinals. I didn’t know about Don Denkinger in ’85 then or about the Twins holding down home field in ’87 then. I just knew baseball and the Cardinals. So they became synonymous for me.

I’m a generation removed from a five-kid family that grew up in the ’60s with a ton of other kids in the same neighborhood. They played baseball nonstop and handed the attention of it down to me. So it’s in my blood to say the least. The game is right there with everything else I’ve ever known, like shoes and Laffy Taffy. It’s a personal institution.

And for all of this, the guy I’ve got to pay all of this homage to is my father. I think the first toy I ever had was a big red baseball bat, and when he’d get off work he’d come outside and pitch to me, no matter how tired he probably was, as my life now makes clear to me daily by five or six o’clock. He took me to countless games over the years and really taught me what’s become my greatest passion. Times we spend at the ballpark have grown to become some of the greatest times of my life. He’s been a Cardinal fan for 49 years now, through nine Cardinal World Series trips, yet has not been to a World Series game yet….

 

For the rest of this article, head over to the CHEAP SEATS at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/life-times-st-louis-cardinals-fan-game-7-san-francisco-giants/

And for everything else, including yes, the World Series and my takes on this alternate universe version of it, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Can a one-man race have two people in it? Because if that can be allowed, the 2012 American League was the perfect example it with its most valuable player push. Early on, not only was there no doubt that Josh Hamilton was the best player in baseball, it was beginning to get to the point that it was time to talk about his half-season in a historical context. However, he hit a low point mid-season that opened up the door for another sensational talent to grab his place in the spotlight.

Mike Trout’s season needs no introduction, and I won’t give it another one here. But his non-stop all-around performance was so immense; it may have taken the shine from Hamilton’s effort anyway. He turned in one of the great campaigns in Major League history and made the biggest immediate impact on baseball since Ichiro and Pujols both arrived together in 2001.

These two hogged the spotlight for 90% of the year, with Adam Jones, Derek Jeter and Adrian Beltre all making their bids to crash the party as well. However, while this was going on, there was another perennial threat that was putting together his dominant year….only at a new level. There were rumblings about what he was on the verge of, and then it became clear that while the attention was on the coasts, history was going to be made in the middle, and Miguel Cabrera rightfully pulled the great MVP heist in many years.

In my final ballot for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance award season, the Stan Musial Award for AL MVP goes to an effort that was much in the vein that both Stan’s career and place in history have stood. An excellent effort, that was largely missed looking every else, until the last second.

 

2012 AL Stan Musial Award—Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

Much of the greatness of Cabrera has been slow to be realized. Somehow, he’s carved out a niche where he is among the most feared hitters in the game, but still not the most recognized. Perhaps because he hasn’t won an individual award, has bounced around a few positions and/or was so young when he won his World Series with the Florida Marlins, that it seems like a different career. But there will be no doubt that his place in the game will be not only properly noted now; it will be respected throughout history. Because in becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, and the first undisputed one in 46, he resoundingly took his place as the best hitter in the world.

But while winning the Triple Crown is the biggest feather in his cap, it’s not what definitively seals him as the MVP of the year. It’s that he was quietly the most clutch player in baseball over the season’s last two months. The Detroit Tigers were on the verge of being the most disappointing team in baseball, from an existing expectation standpoint. In July and August, he hit .344 and .357 respectively, then turned on his power stroke in September, clubbing 10 homers in the season’s final month. He put the team on his back, and kept moving faster and faster up both the standings and League Leader boards.

In the end, the Tigers won the Central and Cabrera won his second consecutive batting title, hitting .330. In the process he set a career high in RBI with 139, and jumped his final hurdle to baseball immortality when he hit his 43rd homer, ultimately finishing with 44. Outside of his key, star-aligned numbers, Cabrera also added 205 hits and 40 doubles, while his .999 on-base + slugging percentage lead the AL as well. All of this effort pulled him into immortality, the Tigers back to October has well.

And now, the name of Miguel Cabrera (who is only 29 as well), must be mentioned on equal tier with the bests of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski. And whether it takes five or another 45 years to pull off the three crown trick again, that’s a mountain where he’ll never be looked over again.

 

The Best of the Rest

2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels: All that’s needed to understand how good his year was is that the precocious AL leader in steals, runs scored and Wins Above Replacement had such a strong debut it cast doubt over the validity of the Triple Crown as being the measuring stick of absolute excellence.

3. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers: If Hamilton’s first half (.308/27/75) would have carried over to the second half, the wall of immortals Cabrera joined would have had Hamilton’s name on it instead.

4. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers: When Hamilton wilted, Beltre stepped up. He hit .334 in the second half and still remains as the best corner glove in baseball.

5. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees: It’s tough to be the best Yankee, and get the notice that you deserve. But yet again he reached a new personal high, hitting 33 home runs and adding 48 doubles and 196 hits as well.

6. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles: The leader of the Orioles great surge through the year and played in every game of the year, setting new career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, average and runs scored.

7. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: How do you follow up a year where you join the 3,000 hit club and top the career Yankee hits list? Come back and rack up a league leading 216 hits at 38 years old, the second highest total of his career.

8. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: He didn’t have the complete transcendent year he had in 2011, but Verlander won a ton of crucial games down the stretch and topped the AL in strikeouts for a second consecutive year.

9. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels: Trout got many of the headlines around the Angels success, but the team still played at its best when he was at his, and he topped 30 home runs for a MLB-record 12th consecutive year.

10. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: King Felix’s influence was so strong that he made the Mariners the best last place club in baseball all while only contributing every fifth day. He offered a Perfect Game in August and struck out 100 while walking only 14 from June to August.

 

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award: Buster Posey & Miguel Cabrera

 

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The National League was full of clearly dominant teams in 2012, but the guiding hand behind them was ever changing. It was a league that had its statistical batting champ, Melky Cabrera, disqualified via the first official, unofficial asterisk ever issued by the MLB. Saw the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols jump ship from the defending World Champions…and that team produce more MVP candidates than ever before in his absence. It saw the rise of a dead in the water Pittsburgh Pirates team, centered on a diversely talented, if not misfit offering of players.

Like many other seasons, it came in shifts. At different point throughout the summer a former MVP in Joey Votto put an assault on the all-time doubles record. David Wright made hitting .400 look like easy work. Andrew McCutchen made EVERYTHING look easy all at once. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and then Yadier Molina all took shifts in pushing the dynamic St. Louis Cardinals’ offense. Later on, Chase Headley and the defending MVP in Ryan Braun put on a crush to pull their teams up the standings, and their own numbers up the leaderboard.

But in the end, the biggest difference maker was a guy that’s not new to the position, because he’s been doing it since the moment he touched the Majors. He just decided to not be subtle about it this time around, because he played with a sense of urgency that no one else could match.

2012 NL Stan Musial Award—Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Over his three year career, no player’s presence has meant more to his team’s place in the game than Posey’s. As a rookie in 2010, his promotion sparked the Giants on run that landed himself a Rookie of the Year, and his club a World Championship. Last year, his season was ended early with a broken leg, which simultaneously tossed San Francisco down into third place for the remainder of the year. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

By definition, a most valuable player is one that is the most indispensable to his team’s success, due to his performance. For Posey, it goes a step further, because of the attitude and presence he brings as the catcher to one of the best rotations in the game. He calls a fantastic ballgame, which propels the entire pitching staff of the Giants to an even higher level than their substantial talent already ranks them. He is a no-nonsense competitor that refused a full-time split arrangement as a first baseman also this season due to the message it would send to his teammates. He’s a gamer, and that’s only half the equation in understanding his importance.

He’s simply one of the most talented catchers in the game when the overall ability behind the plate is quietly approaching an all-time high. Agree with how it came to be or not, his .336 average won him the National League batting title and made him the first catcher to do so since 1942. He achieved this via a ridiculous .433 average vs. left-handers and a .385 second-half average, both MLB bests as well. Along the way he set career highs in every category, including topping 100 RBI for the first time with 24 homers and 39 doubles as well.

However, the most important number of his year? 94, the number of wins the Giants total in recapturing the West with the return of their MVP, and now, the National League’s as well.

 Best of the Rest

2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: A year that started with accusations, and late the absolution, of PED use, Braun had a better year than he did in winning the MVP a year before. Even without the protection of Prince Fielder, he led the NL in home runs (41), runs scored (108) and total bases (356).

3. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: The best glove in the game added took his offense to the next level as well. He was fourth in the NL in batting average at .315 and topped 20 homers as well. He also threw out 48% of runs that attempted to steal on him, for good measure.

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: He did everything he could to break the Pirates sub-.500 streak. While he couldn’t accomplish that, he did lead the NL in hits with 194.

5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals: He inherited the third spot in the Cards’ lineup, and responded by hitting .340 or better in three separate months.

6. David Wright, New York Mets: Health was finally Wright’s friend again, and in response he topped both 40 doubles and 20 home runs, while also hitting .308.

7. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: You could win a good bar bets by asking who led the NL in home runs and RBI in the second half. The answer is Headley, who knocked in 73 of his NL leading 115 RBI post-ASG.

8. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds: He could have shattered the all-time record for doubles in a season if not mid-season knee surgery. He still finished with 44, tied for second best in the NL despite having 230 less at-bats than the guy he tied with.

9. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals: His first half was so good (20 homers, 65 RBI) he literally made the loss of Pujols somewhat of a non-factor.

10. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves: One of the best-rounded contributors in the game, was most essential everyday player in the A. Splitting time between left field and every infield position, he was fourth in hits in the NL with 186 and hit .301 as well.

Later today, the ballot for AL’s Stan Musial Award will be revealed…

 

October 9—Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10—Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Awards: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Awards: Craig Kimbrel & Fernando Rodney

October 12—Stan Musial/Most Valuable Player Awards: Buster Posey

For more on each ballot and the mania that is October baseball, in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

I didn’t get as much time to dedicate to this Baseball Bloggers Alliance award ballot as others, but luckily it wasn’t a year full of choices as tough as the other categories have been. So, without the same ado as the others have been, here is my humble submission for the best curtain closers of the year.

 

2012 NL Goose Gossage Award—Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

Kimbrel put a stamp on what’s clear if you’ve been watching baseball over the last two years: he’s the best in the business at turning out the lights at the end of the night. He tied for the lead in saves this season with 42, but did it in a somehow understated, yet dominant fashion. In 62 innings, only seven runs squeezed their way out against him, and he struck out a ridiculous 116 batters against only 14 walks. That plays out in the form of 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a miniscule 0.65 WHIP. Pure dominance, that somehow went unnoticed…until every game versus the Braves turned into an eight inning affair somehow.

Runners up: Aroldis Chapman—Reds, Joel Hanahran—Pirates

 

2012 AL Goose Gossage Award—Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

It wasn’t supposed to be Rodney’s job, but Kyle Farnsworth not being ready to pitch out of Spring Training became a blessing in disguise in Tampa. Rodney became the most surprising impact arm of the season, totaling 48 saves on the year, and failing to convert on only two chances. His total was good for second best in baseball, and he did so with amazing efficiency; his 0.60 ERA on the year was tops among all relievers.

Runners up: Jim Johnson—Orioles, Joe Nathan—Rangers

 

For more on the MLB Award season, including the final MVP announcements tomorrow, follow me on Twitter @CheapSeatFan

The American League on the mound in 2011 was like a Japanese building next to Godzilla, only there were no Mothra’s or annoying little tanks to slow down Justin Verlander. He ran so thoroughly through the opposition that his Cy Young win looked small next to the eventual MVP he took on.

A year later, the class step up their ballgame to come up to his level, and even surpass it. The race to call name the best arm in the AL was as even and spread out of a race as was offered. The consistency the perennial threats such as the Yankees’ CC Sabathia was battled by the undeniable rise of Chris Sale and the White Sox along with him. Meanwhile out west, Jared Weaver joined the No-Hit bandwagon, while Felix Hernandez did a notch better tossing a Perfecto on the Rays. And Tampa Bay showcased the brilliance that is watching an amazing skill set come together every day, such as David Price’s 2012 endeavor showed.

However, all things considered, Mount Verlander still posed a considerable task peak to climb on its 2012 merits alone. While he faced an impossible encore performance, was even a return to Earth still finding him on a level of his own? Well…yes, it still did. Soon enough, could the Baseball Bloggers Alliance AL entry to the Walter Johnson Award be due for a renaming? If this keeps up, maybe.

2012 AL Walter Johnson Award—Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Nobody was in a more impossible position than Verlander was every time out in ’12. He was coming off one of the most decorated years any pitcher has ever authored, and was doing so for a team that had upgraded around him. But there had to be a happy medium; winning 20 games is a task to repeat, so winning 24 again? No, there was no way that he had as good of a year as he did a summer ago, but still the AL couldn’t keep up with the game’s ultimate Ace.

Verlander’s effort epitomized the Tigers season. He was gritty, leading the Majors once more in innings pitched (238.1), strikeouts (239) and complete games (6). The wins were down to 17, which was his lowest total in four years, however when the chips were down, he was never better. The Tigers, who won the AL Central by 15 games a year ago, had to fight until the season’s last week to overcome the Chicago White Sox. Over that stretch, Verlander went 5-1 in September, sporting a 1.93 ERA and 41 strikeouts.

Last season, his outright domination wowed an amazed to a point that the Tigers closed out business better than anybody in baseball. This year, he had to focus it late to pull the team into the playoffs. That versatility and dependency makes him the definition of an Ace. There’s a legit buzz of history and hopelessness around any appearance he makes on the mound. 2012 wasn’t 2011, and it proves that clutch grit is just as great as distance producing excellence. And it also makes him the best pitcher in the world, until somebody outdoes him.

Best of the Rest

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: He once again defied the confines of his place as the top arm on a non-contending team. King Felix finished with 223 spread across 232 frames, and led the Majors with 5 shutouts. From mid-June to August, he struck out 100, while walking only 14 on a 1.40 ERA.

3. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays: In year four, Price became the complete package.  His 2.56 ERA was the lowest in the AL, and he became the first Ray to ever top 20 wins in a season, also the top total in the league.

4. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Sale’s rise to prominence totaled 17 wins and 192 strikeouts, as well as grabbed the White Sox by the collar nearly drug them back into the playoffs. Not bad considering he made his first career start this past April.

5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels: Weaver was the rock of the Angels through a tough team start and injuries himself. He went undefeated in July, and only lost once in both May and September, racking up his first 20 win season, tying for the league lead.

Later today, the ballot for the Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year in both leagues will be revealed.

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, recap & preview

October 9Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Award: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Award:

October 12—Stan Musial Most Valuable Player Award

For more on the run through a crazy October, and tomorrow’s big MVP announcement in the CHEAP SEATS, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

It was a fantastic year for pitching in the National League, as well as a progressive one. 12 pitchers won 16 or more games, and none were named Halladay, Carpenter or Lincecum. It was a season where the youth movement continued to be served, but was defined as well by veterans taking on new frontiers and taking the road well traveled to new levels.

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance nod to pitcher of the year is named the Walter Johnson Award, and rightfully so. Johnson is the greatest pitcher of all-time, but often didn’t play on teams that gave much support to that stacking up in much championship hardware. However, despite this, he was dominant to the point where, while it’s a complete team effort, it sure wasn’t his fault the original Washington Nationals didn’t do much with his effort.

And in that spirit, the top two candidates for this year put up classic performances in the vein of the Big Train. Two teams that couldn’t ride their ace to October baseball, but puts no tarnish on what they accomplished. In the end, while one had much more story worthy ride through the summer, it was the defending holder of the game’s highest pitching honor that somehow became the sleeping dog, that’s worthy of the year’s biggest bone.

 

2012 Walter Johnson Award Winner—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year’s numbers were sure sexier: 21 wins, 248 strikeouts and an anemic 2.28 ERA. He became the youngest pitching Triple Crown winner ever and established himself as the most dominant left-hander in the game. A year later the numbers were down, and up, across the board: down to 14 wins, 229 K’s and a 2.53 ERA. Those are still great numbers, but a digression is a digression right? And that shouldn’t be rewarded…unless it’s the type that was seen surrounding Kershaw.

However, Kershaw’s year was an anomaly of sorts, because the Dodgers were better than a year ago, and in the pennant chase until the next to last day of the summer. Much improved from the middling third place club from 2011. But what made them better was that they performed much better for the rest of the staff than for their stud 24-year-old Cy Young winner, which made for more wins. It’s understandable in a way; watching him toss it doesn’t seem like he’d need much help at all, but many a great effort can be understated due to a lack of victories being credited to the first guy that takes the ball. Ask Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez from 2009 and 2010.

But what Kershaw’s effort did this year was further the notion that’s becoming clearer and clearer: a pitcher’s wins are the most overrated measure of how good he is in a year.

Yes, Kershaw’s wins decreased by 7 from a year ago, and he only officially won five more than he lost, registering a 14-9 record. However, he also had 27 quality starts, which means some strong efforts were lost in translation after his work was done. In seven loses credited to him, the Dodgers failed to score more than two runs. He kept them in more than competitive shape, so much to the point where he became the fourth pitcher in the last 67 years to post back-to-back years of having the lowest ERA in the Majors. Overall, in his post-Cy season he led his league in Wins Above Replacement level at 6.3 and WHIP at 1.02. He was second in strikeouts and innings pitched only because he missed a late season start.

More importantly, he re-emerged when it counted most. Kershaw’s talents got a chance to be displayed when the pressure was the highest and the Dodgers’ year on the line, as he pitched as well can possibly be imagined over the last month of the year. In his last five starts, amid a full on Wild Card chase and sporting a right hip that narrowly avoided surgery, he bared down to the tone of 35 innings pitched, surrendering only three runs. That’s good for a 0.77 ERA, built on 37 strikeouts and only 21 hits.

The Dodgers record in Kershaw games in the final month: 3-2. Yet, once again, they lost another of his efforts 1-0….and also lost out on the Wild Card by one game. Can’t say they didn’t have a chance.

 

Best of the Rest

2. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets: It was as tough as possible not to give Dickey this nod. His amazing performance via a revamped approach at the knuckleball was remarkable. He was outstanding on a not very much so club. League leader in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and wins.

3. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants: The Perfect Game and All-Star Game start were the highlights, but a career high in wins and low in ERA punctuated his undisputed rise to legit ace status in San Francisco and all of baseball.

4. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: The Nationals traded a lot to land him in the winter, and rewarded their bounty dump by becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to win 20 games while throwing under 200 innings.

5. Johnny Cuerto, Cincinnati Reds: One of the most underrated, yet consistent performers in the game. Cuerto finessed his way to a career-high 19 wins, and the second best WAR total amongst NL starters at 5.8.

 

Hang on, later today we take this to American League as well…. 

 

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS, Recap & Preview

October 9Connie Mack Award/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper/Mike Trout

October 12—Stan Musial MVP Awards

 

For all complaints, claims of insanity on my part or the rare congratulations, hit the comment box below. For anything else, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

There was a youth movement unlike any other this year across baseball. This has been seen before, but this year was something bigger; it was the year of the phenom. There was no such thing as an average rookie this year, because this class showed up with tower sized hype…and most of them outgrew it in a matter of weeks.

That’s why it’s ironic that this year’s Willie Mays Award, the nod given to the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Rookie of the Year honor, is named as it is. For decades there’s been the rush to compare every multi-skilled youngster that blows up on the scene in hurry to Mays. It’s the loftiest, and most unrealistic, comparison there is. I’m not one to rush to crown any king, especially ones that can barely legally drink, or can’t even. Or especially guys that haven’t been the country long enough to know where all the states are yet, been burned that way many a time.

But this year, something different happened, a group showed up amazed so often, it seemed trivial to look at them as rookies. It was just a minor formality at best. The top six rookies in each league became the best pitcher on a two-time League Champ immediately, made the loss of a former MVP seem inconsequential in Cincinnati, hit Roy Hobbs like homers in Oakland and featured an All-Star that was the only pitcher with a winning record on a division champ from a year ago.

And then there were two that not only shattered the expectations, but became record-setting, age re-defining All-Stars at ages where they should be filling out FAFSA forms, not being penciled into MLB Awards ballots.

 

National League—Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

Harper’s ascent as uber-prospect has been well documented. He’s made it his life’s work of spitting in the face of expectations and arrival dates. He’s been the youngest at so many things it’s going to take a precocious middle schooler with amazing bat speed to break some of his “first to do it” marks. However, the MLB was supposed to be different, but yet again Harper didn’t mind to stop and pay attention to that rule either.

It was seen as too soon when he came up to give the Nats a boost in the lineup when Ryan Zimmerman hit the DL. But he turned what was seen as being a matinee into a full summer show, winning the NL Rookie of the Month his first full 30 days in the league. His feats continued on throughout the summer, becoming the youngest All-Star ever and totaling a .270 batting average, with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and thieving 18 bases as well, finishing the top five in six different categories for rookies.

There’s been much bigger numbers put up by a rookie (as we’ll soon see), but to get the impact of Harper’s debut is deeper than that. He was the most dependable everyday performer on the best team in the National League, at 19. He hit all over the Nationals lineup, carrying them wherever an injury took out the incumbent, a frequent occurrence this summer. He played intensely hard every day, with an unrelenting style both at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Put that over presence in the context of the rise to power of the Nationals and there was no more valuable player in DC this year, rookie be damned.

#2) Todd Frazier, Reds

#3) Wade Miley, D’Backs

 

American League—Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

While Harper was the most valuable rookie in the NL this year, the man that opened the year as his contemporary atop Top 100 Prospects lists is arguably the most valuable player in all of baseball this year. At the very least, he’s the greatest rookie to ever play the game. At the age of 20 for most of the season, he became the first player in Major League history to hit 30 home runs, steal 45 bases and score 125 runs. Trout became the most popular, and best, player on a team featuring the most prolific player of the last decade in Albert Pujols. This is Trout’s time, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.

In 139 games, starting on April 28th, he built up 182 hits, 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 49 steals in 54 attempts, eight triples, and a .326 batting average. His steals and runs scored totals were the best in either league, and he did this all after missing the first 30 games of the year in the minors. For context, he hit .372 and .394 in his first two full months as an Angel, and only had less than 30 hits in one month. With his 30 home run, he became the youngest member of the 30-30 club in history. He was one steal short of becoming the third player ever to hit 30 homers and steal 50 bases in one year. In the field, he robbed at least three home runs from well over the fence in centerfield, and should become the first rookie to win a Gold Glove in over 10 years.

But the biggest impact a player can make is in the wins column. At the end of April, the Angels were 8-15, 9 games out of first place already. Trout’s phenomenal season netted him a 10.7 Wins Above Replacement, the best in baseball by 2 games over the second biggest difference maker in all of baseball. So take Trout, put in the Opening Day lineup, and you put the Angels in October.

That’s why Rookie of the Year means little in the context of assessing Trout, and it’s why even the a Triple Crown Winner’s validity has the best in the world is questioned next to a guy that redefined what Most Valuable anything looks like.

#2) Yu Darvish, Rangers

#3) Yoenis Cespedes, A’s

 

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS Recap & Preview

October 8: Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award

October 9: Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award

October 10: Goose Gossage/Reliever of the Year Award

For more on this ballot, and everything else that kicks up baseball dust, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan